Review of November 10th concert

What a treat we all had when Amy Roberts, oboe, and Gamal Khamis, piano, gave us an electrifying performance at Howgills last Wednesday evening. This was the second concert in the new season’s series after the cultural desolation of Covid lockdown. Here again was another opportunity for us all to realise the magic of live music. The subtle interplay between performers and an audience that listens creatively makes a concert more than the sum of its parts. Both contribute to enhancing the presence of music as something magical. The subtle response of the active listener evokes a greater sensitivity from the performer which in turn carries the listener into a greater appreciation of the beauty of the music. So it is good to report that there were many moments in the concert when you could ‘hear a pin drop’, as the saying goes. This is a testimony both to the excellence of the players and to the concentrated attention of the audience. 

To begin their concert Amy and Gamal played a little-known piece, Sarabande et Allegro, by the French composer Gabriel Grovlez. Surprisingly Spanish in style the performers gently attracted us into the world of early 20th century impressionism. It immediately became apparent what a beautiful musical partnership these two gifted performers have created. Gamal’s sensitive accompanying was matched by Amy’s beautiful control over her instrument. The oboe is notoriously difficult to make dynamic contrasts on, yet Amy was able to explore the whole gamut from exquisite pianissimos to almost penetrating fortes. This was particularly apparent in her performance of the two pieces for solo oboe by Thea Musgrave, Dawn and Whirlwind. So much modern music can be difficult to absorb on a first hearing. But these pieces definitely proved the opposite – original, intriguing and definitely friendly to the ear.

Gamal was able to show us what a gifted soloist he is as well as accompanist. In the first half he gave us Debussy’s prelude, Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest, and, as he pointed out, what a lovely opportunity to be able to perform it on the Club’s vintage Bechstein – old enough for Debussy to have played it himself!

In the second half we were treated to Messiaen’s Vocalise. This was Messiaen at his most expressive and introspective, and not a piece that I had heard before. I shall certainly revisit it whenever I can. The second half gave us an insight into programming. So many performers arrange their pieces in roughly chronological order, starting with Baroque and going forward to the moderns at the end. But to hear Handel and Bach between Messiaen and Saint-Saens was a very nice touch. They finished the concert by playing Saint-Saens oboe sonata – a fitting and rousing end to a lovely evening. Thank you to you both! How lucky we all are to have the blessing of live concerts again. Dostoyevsky is right: “Beauty will save us”.

Simon Marlow